Mac OS X’s Address Book: No group information on card

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
March 7th, 2004 • 12:24 am

This happens to me on a regular basis. I have a fairly large Address Book database with hundreds of records and over 40 groups. I think it’s rather normal that, sometimes, I don’t remember what group(s) a given record belongs to.

So I select “All” in the Groups column, and type the first few letters of a keyword for this particular record in the “Search” field.

Address Book quickly locates the record in question and all is well — right? Well, not quite.

While this gives me quick access to the record and enables me to work with, there is still a crucial piece of information missing: Viewing the record itself does not tell me which group(s) it belongs to.

This is because Address Book goes a bit too far in hiding the internal structure of the Address Book database from the user. Typically, in a database, when a record is flagged as being part of one or several group(s) (or categories), this information is included in the record itself, in the form of check boxes for the corresponding groups.

Instead of displaying the group information for the record in this way, Address Book automatically uses this information to compile the contents of each group on the fly, and lets you browse the contents of your database by group.

In most situations, this is just fine. But in the situation that I am describing here, when you’ve found a record as the result of a search and need to know which group(s) the record is part of, this way of presenting the data fails.

And there is no real work-around. What you can do is leave the keyword in the “Search” field and click on each and every group individually. When there is something (anything) in the “Search” field, if the user selects a group, Address Book restricts what is displayed in the “Name” column to only those records in the group that match the search criterion. In other words, you don’t have to retype the search criterion for each group. You just type the search criterion once, and then click on each group to see if the matching record is in that group.

Still, with more than 40 different groups, this is not exactly a practical solution. We need something in the record itself that indicates which groups the record is part of.

7 Responses to “Mac OS X’s Address Book: No group information on card”

  1. peter says:

    just press “alt” while viewing the record and you will magically see.
    and please do not complain about this being a “hidden” feature ;-)

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Good tip. Thanks. How is it not “hidden”, please? How was I supposed to know/find out about this “alt” (option) tip?

  3. Clint MacDonald says:


    “Good tip. Thanks. How is it not ?hidden,? please?”

    You are absolutely right — the feature is as hidden as they come. And, it is totally useful (if not essential). A much better implementation would be for those Group highlights to be active at all times (with, I suppose, a Preference to inactivate them for those who find colors too annoying). Well, Apple, are you listening?

    Best wishes,

  4. ssp says:

    You were supposed to find out about this by accidentally holding the option key and wondering why things on your screen change ;) That’s how I found out about it.

    I agree that having it in a contextual menu (à la iTunes) or even a proper menu would be nice. On the other hand it seems likely that very few people will use this, so I am not too worried.

    In a slightly bigger context, you could start complaining about the fact that OSX has many ‘iTunes style’ applications now, with a customisable ‘sources’ section at the left. All of these are basically glorified and specialised databases. Unfortunately not two of them work exactly the same. I am sure you will be able to find no two applications with these features in OSX which work (or even look) in a consistent manner.

    A challenge for Apple would be to standardise all those applications. I suppose that would solve this particular obscurity as well.

  5. Pierre Igot says:

    ssp: How often do you hold the Option key down like this, just for fun? :-)

    The need to standardize the appearance of database entries across all applications has to be weighed against the fact that sometimes the way of presenting data can differ due to the very nature of the data. We don’t want all iApps to look like the same old FileMaker Pro database either :). It’s definitely a balancing act.

  6. ssp says:

    Of course different applications require different details. I don’t want a play/pause button in my address book, say.

    Still, it should be feasible to make the common elements such as the sources/playlists/album/group lists along with their add/remove features exactly identical in their looks and behaviour. The same goes for the filtering field, say.

  7. Paul Ingraham says:

    Boy is that feature ever hidden. If I’d known about six months ago, I might have taken Address Book more seriously. I wonder what else it can do? :-)

    I actually do hold the option key down for fun and enlightenment fairly frequently. It’s amazing how often something interesting happens. However, it could easily have been ten years before I stumbled on that feature!

    Obviously, I agree with both of you on the interface question. They can’t be identical, but where they can be identical, they certainly should be identical.

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